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Formula 1

Strange Horner/Jos Verstappen Austrian GP row explained

by Josh Suttill
4 min read

Christian Horner having to firefight during a 2024 Formula 1 race weekend has become a familiar occurrence - but what he was having to deflect from at the Austrian Grand Prix might be the weirdest subject matter yet.

Essentially what’s been mostly a private dispute between team boss Horner and Jos Verstappen, the father of the team’s star driver Max, has been fully dragged into the public eye in Austria.

Verstappen made plenty of pointed remarks about Horner to Dutch media earlier this year but, really for the first time in Austria, Horner’s response to these most recent comments took centre stage in the FIA press conference.

'There was no veto'

Jos Verstappen was due to participate in the legends parade (in the 2012 title-winning RB8), but he then told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf he had stood down from driving because he had heard Horner had moved to block him from participating.

It has been suggested in the Red Bull Ring paddock that there was a dispute over whether Red Bull wanted Verstappen to be filmed as part of the parade and, while Horner has denied vetoing anything, Verstappen has taken it to be targeted interference with his participation.

That led to the unusual, public spat through the media on Friday, with Verstappen’s comments then being put to Horner - who avoided responding directly but did issue several thinly veiled digs.

“I’ve been made aware of it. The legends parade is something organised by the circuit, there was no veto from my side or anything like that,” Horner continued.

“I’m sure the legends will be in action later.”

This prompted further questions about Horner’s relationship with Jos and Max.

“The relationship with Max has always been very good and strong. He’s our driver, he’s the one who is important to have a strong relationship with,” Horner replied.

“I’ve never had an issue with any of our drivers’ fathers in the past and whatever Jos’s issues are, I’ve really got nothing to comment on.”

Horner’s argument is essentially that the only Horner-Verstappen relationship is the one between Max and Horner.

“My interest is in the performance of the team, we have a wonderful team and in Max we have the best driver in the team,” Horner explained.

“He came to our team as a young man and he’s grown and grown. Grown in stature and as a driver and a human being.

“Despite all the distractions of this year, we’ve still won 70% of the races including two sprint races and seven poles [as well], we lead both world championships.

“You can’t control everything in life, you can’t control your relationship with drivers’ fathers. But my focus is on the performance of our drivers and team and that’s where it will remain.”

Horner is right that his focus should be on the team rather than the strength of his relationship with his star driver’s father, but the question will be whether that strain puts Max’s Red Bull future into doubt.

Crucial to any post-2024 decisions - as they were in choosing Red Bull in the first place - are both Jos and long-time manager Raymond Vermeulen, so does a strained relationship with Jos make a Mercedes move any more likely for Max?

That was another theme of questioning fired at Horner...

Mercedes' distraction tactic?

Toto Wolff openly pitching for Verstappen to come to the team earlier this year sparked rumours of a switch even before Mercedes made a breakthrough with its 2024 car which is making a Red Bull-to-Mercedes move far less of a backwards step than it previously would've appeared.

Of course more fundamental to Mercedes’ pitch than short-term progress is the team’s 2026 prospects with the “ambitious targets” it has promised.

But that prompted Horner to suggest to everyone that Lewis Hamilton wasn’t convinced by Mercedes’ direction of travel when he agreed to leave the team for Ferrari from 2025.

“The driver who has created all the movement in the market had all the information about the engines and 2026 regulations and chose to leave Mercedes,” Horner pointed out.

He also referenced Verstappen’s saying he’ll drive for Red Bull in 2025 on Thursday in Austria as “reaffirming everything that we already know”, but some close to Verstappen believe his statement in the drivers' press conference was not an enthusiastic and cast-iron commitment to being at Red Bull next season.

They believe he wants to judge how the development race evolves this season with Mercedes making progress and Red Bull coming under more pressure despite attempting to improve its own car.

Horner thinks Wolff’s effort to attract Verstappen is purely a “distraction tactic”.

“If he does want a Verstappen for next year, I guess Jos is potentially available,” Horner quipped.

The threat of Verstappen’s Mercedes switch, the problem of what to do with the rest of its drivers, and Red Bull losing its dominant edge are all genuine, pressing problems for the team to tackle.

But weirdly, a very personal Jos Verstappen-Horner feud is once again taking centre stage.

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